Doctor Who Tried to Warn of Outbreak Near Death from Coronavirus


WUHAN, China — A doctor who was among the first to warn about the coronavirus outbreak — only to be silenced by the police — was clinging to life on Friday after having become infected, the hospital treating him reported.

The Wuhan City Central Hospital said in a post at about 12:45 a.m. on Friday on its official account on the Chinese social media site, Weibo, that it was still trying to save the doctor, Li Wenliang, and that he was in critical condition.

Other Chinese news reports said, without clear sourcing, that Dr. Li, 34, was already dead. The World Health Organization issued a message of condolence on Twitter, without specifying the source of its information.

The New York Times wrote about the doctor on Feb. 1, documenting his efforts to alert colleagues about patient illnesses that resembled Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS, the deadly coronavirus affliction that ravaged China nearly two decades ago.

The reports of Dr. Li’s death triggered an outpouring of messages on the Chinese internet that lionized him as a hero for having stood up against officials who tried to downplay the spreading epidemic that has engulfed Wuhan, spilled across China and ignited an international health crisis.

  • Updated Feb. 5, 2020

    • Where has the virus spread?
      You can track its movement with this map.
    • How is the United States being affected?
      There have been at least a dozen cases. American citizens and permanent residents who fly to the United States from China are now subject to a two-week quarantine.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      Several countries, including the United States, have discouraged travel to China, and several airlines have canceled flights. Many travelers have been left in limbo while looking to change or cancel bookings.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands is the most important thing you can do.

Dr. Li’s fate is a singularly delicate issue for the Chinese government, which has tried to fight back against the coronavirus, while also stifling widespread criticism that officials have delayed and mismanaged the government’s response to the initial outbreak in Wuhan, a city of 11 million in central China’s Hubei Province.


Jiemian, a Chinese news website, was among those that reported Dr. Li’s death, citing the doctor’s classmates. After falling ill from an infection of the coronavirus, he had made a turn for the better but then relapsed, the report said. Global Times, another Chinese news service, also reported Dr. Li’s death.

Some of the reports of his death were taken down.

Dr. Li was questioned by hospital officials and the police in early January after he warned a circle of medical school classmates on Dec. 30 about a viral outbreak that he said appeared similar to SARS. The police compelled him to sign a statement denouncing his warning as an unfounded and illegal rumor.

Soon, however, Dr. Li’s warning was vindicated as growing numbers of residents in Wuhan fell ill with fever and pneumonia symptoms after infection with the virus. Dr. Li himself fell ill with pneumonia, and early this month was confirmed to be among the thousands of Wuhan residents who have contracted the new coronavirus.

Elsie Chen contributed research from Wuhan. Li Yuan and Cao Li contributed reporting from Hong Kong. Claire Fu, Wang Yiwei and Amber Wang contributed research from Beijing.

Source : Nytimes